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  • Mridul Mittal

Self-Sustaining Communities – A New Utopia

Updated: May 22, 2019

Have you heard of this word ‘utopia’?

Scholars describe ‘Utopia’ as an imagined place or state of things where everything is perfect. Coined by Sir Thomas Moore to describe an imaginary society in Atlantic ocean. At best one can describe utopia as a ‘perfect society’ where social conditions are perfect.

Later generations of communists took on the tenets that they felt suited their ideology and tried to create Utopian Society and we know how best that worked!

So what is a Utopian Society?

To my mind, a Utopian Society is a veritable paradise on earth, where there is no pollution, no deforestation and no exploitation of natural resources. If we can achieve this then we are truly living in a Utopian Society. Before you are quick enough to quote American historian Clayton Cramer and say, “Abandon all hopes of Utopia – There are people involved,” let me show you something.

Here is the Utopia for you.

Why do I think so?

Here is why?

This is a small Dutch village called Almere in Amsterdam where people live off the grid from the mainstream community.

You may wonder why?

That’s because they don’t need electricity as they produce their own power.

They don’t need food because they grow their own.

They don’t need help with waste management because they manage their own waste to feed their crops with manure.

In other words, this is a Utopian society where carbon footprint is low and ecological footprint is high.

This closed loop self-sustaining ecological village is a high-tech vertical farm. The community produces power using geothermal, solar, solar thermal, wind and biomass to run equipment around the community.

Household wastes are composted to feed livestock and soldier flies and in return soldier flies will feed the fish and the fish waste will be used to fertilize aquaculture system to produce crops. Gardens with seasonal vegetables and fruits are grown using the waste and manure from the livestock.

Aquaponics is yet another method that effectively combines aquaculture ( an art of raising fish) and hydroponics ( an art of growing plants using nutrient mineral rich water). Using Aquaponics, one can grow ten times the produce in the same amount of land with 90% less water.

The biogas plant turns non-compostable household waste into power and water. The community also has water storage system that collects rainwater and cleans the gray water while redistributing it to seasonal gardens.

This way not a drop of water is wasted and more important it remains pure and free of chemicals and fertilizers.

No household waste goes literally ‘waste’ here. They are used to feed either as compost or as feed for the livestock.

With their electrical, water, food and waste needs met, the community has effectively closed the loop within itself and requires no assistance from the outside world to conduct its affairs. No need for power lines, water supply, drainage or supermarkets to buy stuff.

This community village in Almere is but one of the pilot projects by ReGen Villages, an Amsterdam-based company. With the success of this self-contained off-the-grid village, ReGen is planning to build a community of 100 homes where each cluster of 25 homes grow their own organic produce, raise fish and chicken using advanced agricultural technology such as aquaponics and vertical farms.

I think we have finally discovered a utopia that is not imaginary but a possible reality in the near future.

Off-the-grid Communities

To tell the truth, Almere isn’t the first off-the-grid Community to be created in the west.

Do you know in the US, over 180,000 households are living off-the-gride?

No, they are not poor villagers habited by illiterate people but a community of enlightened minds who want to reduce their carbon footprint. One such community is Three Rivers Recreation Area in Bend, Ore in Oregon. With over 500 homes scattered across 4000 acres of land, this community has over 100 permanent residents who are completely off-the-grid.

They generate power using solar panels and wind turbines and live an alternative lifestyle where watching nature and wildlife is more important that staring at the idiot box and one’s phone. Other communes that are worth mentioning here are Greater World Community where homes are built out of natural materials and every household is fitted with the solar hot water system and solar panels to generate power.

Amish communities in the US, even today live in the commune that rejects electricity and other modern conveniences, grow their own produce, manage their own waste and live happily within their own self-sustained community.

Have you heard of Henry David Thoreau?

He was one of American’s celebrated essayist, poet, philosopher and thinker in the 19th century. In 1845 Thoreau built a hut on the shores of Walden Pond (near Concord) and lived there for two years, two months and two days in solitude. Thoreau called it an experiment and it helped him identify things that a human being needs in order to live – food, shelter, clothing and fuel.

When nature provides these things to us then it beggars belief that we run around earning money to buy things that we really don’t need.

Advantages of being Off-the-grid

Off-the-grid is totally green for many reasons. Sustainable energy system using renewable resources such as the wind and the sun’s energy substantially brings down your expenses. Understandably nature plays a very vital role in such communities.

Nick Rosen the author of Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America says, “You become much more aware of the sun and the wind because you need it to power yourself,”

He also observed that people who are living off-the-grid didn’t fill their life buying stuff that didn’t need. Rosen remarked about this and said, “”We’re all consuming too much. One of the big motivations for an off-grid living is a weariness of the consumer society. It’s not necessarily anti-consumer, but post-consumer.”

In this book, he estimated that an average off-the-grid residence used only 20% of the energy that would be normally consumed in an average American house.

Yet another advantage of being off-the-grid is transportation or rather a low usage of it. In a community where one’s own produce is used and consumed at the same place, why would you need transportation? When you are growing your own food, why would you want to put on a suit and travel for one hour through polluted streets and sit at a desk from nine to five?

Rosen believes that most families can live off-the-grid with as little as an acre of land which is close to a woodland with an area for agriculture, light for solar panel and a good source of water.

The era of 40 acres and a mule has been replaced by the era of a half an acre and a laptop and a solar panel. However, you’re giving yourself a lot to do if you’re running your own power plant, dealing with your own water supply, disposing of your own waste and pulling your own food. The best way to get off-grid is to go off with others in a group of families, so each has half an acre and share resources and skills. One is tending livestock and one is growing vegetables, while a third is looking after the power supply for everybody else.”

The way forward

In India, there are a few eco-communities like Auroville in Pondicherry where people are partly living on renewable sources. Some communities (especially the newly rising gated communities) are implementing solar lights and water heaters to reduce carbon footprint but they are not completely off-the-grid.

One of the main reasons as why renewable resources are largely overlooked in India is the high costs of implementation. This situation, however, is changing slowly with the government focusing on solar energy and wind energy to power many of their establishments such as BSNL.

I am often reminded of Thoreau’s quote from his poem On the Cost of Anything. He says, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

What a profound thought this is?

What do we really need in life? Food, Shelter, Clothes and Fuel. What escapes us most often is the fact that all these four elements are available all around us. We just need to harness it from our Mother Earth without causing any harm to her.

Let’s do it.